Last week I was lucky enough to celebrate 18 (Chai!) years together with my wife, whom I met in 2005 and legally married in New York in 2012. Some of the readers here may remember that soon after, about two years later, in 2014, I was removed from my shul membership by homophobic rabbis in my old community. (Even when some rabbis fail, others rise above and there is hope for LGBT Jews.) It has also been seven years since I spoke on a panel of LGBTQ Jews, following that removal, before a room full of Rabbis at the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America), in an attempt to open the hearts and minds of these leaders to the needs of LGBTQ Jews in the frum world. In fact, this is what gave me the chizuq (strength) to begin my blogging journey in this forum. Along the way, as I began to publicly advocate for our acceptance in the frum world, I met some amazing rabbis and rabbaniyot, who found a way to accept others like me, and often with open arms. It is what gave me the chizuq to continue to remain within the observant world. I knew there were some wonderful ones out there!
As my wife and I made our way to Israel, on aliyah in June of 2020, we found a home and a shul, a Rav and a Rabbanit, and others like them that embraced us and welcomed us into their community and home. I often find myself pinching myself and thinking that this is all a dream, often calling the world I live in now, “opposite world.” In fact, I have learned that hope does spring eternal and gives such chizuq to anyone who holds onto it. But you know what has given me the most chizuq recently? Attending the most beautiful wedding of our friends’ daughter who married a lovely girl she met in seminary. Yes, you read that right and as Bob Dylan once sang, “Times, they are a-changin.” Thank G-d for that! I cannot tell you the joy I had in sharing this day and watching their friends and family dancing up a storm – just like at any other wedding! I cannot tell you how my heart warmed as I looked around the room at the number of kippot, the number of women with covered hair, dancing along with so many young people from the LGBTQ community. Those few hours gave me the chizuq to believe that, despite all the turmoil in this country (and in the world), we are finding ways to embrace one another, to love our fellow human being, as the Torah commands, even if they are different from us. This is the true weapon with which we can all combat sinaat chinam (blind hatred).
At the wedding, I ended up speaking to some of my friends from back in the US. I learned that several kids in my old community had come out. Some had even found partners. To hear this, gave me such hope. When I left that town, I was afraid for every LGBTQ young person and adult, given the hateful messages broadcast in that community towards my family, that they too would have no accepting place there; no shul to truly embrace them. But at this wedding I was so glad to hear that these messages fell on many a deaf ear, because so many recognized them for what they were – pure purveyors of sinaat chinam. In fact, at this wedding, the kallot chose a new name to share for their new family – Aviv – which in English translates into spring; so much renewal, so much faith in Hashem’s creations, so much hope, all wrapped up into one name.
I am not naïve, and I certainly know that those that hate us, and want us thrown out of our communities, will continue to do so given certain rabbis and their take on this subject – you know, our very existence – but I know that others are realizing how horribly they erred, how much damage they have done and could do to their fellow Jew. I am strengthened by the move by so many to embrace us in the face of this hatred, and I pray that the many who do will eventually outnumber those who don’t; both in my old community and in the world over. That is my daily prayer. So, to all the LGBTQ young people out there, please know this, there are so many out there who love you and will continue to drown out the voices of hate with songs rejoicing in your happiness, songs sung at your smachot, music played while you dance with your soul mate, and by the sounds of brachot wished upon you by your loved ones. To the parents of LGBTQ kids in the frum world, follow the example of my friends, of other frum parents who love their kids no matter what, who dance at their children’s weddings, who listen to אם אשכחך ירושלים (Should I forget thee Jerusalem) sung under their chuppot, and who yell out “Mazal Tov!” after the glass is broken – reminding us of what we have all lost because of sinaat chinam. Be those parents who work to maintain the human dignity of their children; be the people who do so for all the LGBTQ people in their lives.
A few weeks before the wedding, my wife and I met with old friends of my dad who connected with me when they visited Israel. It is something he left behind for me – his chevre – a group of wonderful, kind people who embrace us both. As we sat down to lunch last month, after visiting my dad’s grave with them, they regaled me with stories of my dad, who was not only their friend, but also their rebbe. One of them told me that many years ago he and my dad had discussed gay marriage and that my dad was adamant that we all had to find a way to sanctify these unions, for it was paramount for human dignity. Is this not a basic tenet of our faith? We even say that דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה, that proper behavior (towards one fellow human being) precedes the Torah, right? I am so glad that my father’s ideas, his dreams, became reality. I am so grateful that in today’s world, right here in Israel, our homeland, we could see a chuppah standing against the backdrop of the Judean hills, enveloping two נשמות (souls) that could pledge their love for each other – “הרי את מקודשת לי בטבעת זו” – “Behold you are sanctified to me with this ring” – before an audience full of so many people who love and support them. It may not be what many of us have known, but it certainly is כדת משה וישראל – like the religion of Moses and Israel – to love one’s fellow Jew. מחיל אל חיל! From strength to strength! Mazal to the new Aviv family! May hope spring eternal for you both always!